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Points of Order

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not normally make a point of order like this, but I wonder whether you have received any indication from a Department for International Development Minister about their intention to make a statement regarding the UK’s continued membership of UNESCO. Reports in the press today suggest that the Government are actively considering withdrawing from the organisation, which supports the culture of our cities, sites of historical interest, and academics in the UK and around the world—not least the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration at the University of Glasgow in my constituency. Surely such a major decision should be communicated to the House first, not leaked in the press, so what means are open to us to ensure that a Minister comes to the House to justify the decision—if indeed a decision has been made?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. Before I say anything else, I might add that we are of course in a UNESCO world heritage site ourselves, which is a source of some pride to the House. I have received no indication that the Secretary of State for International Development intends to make a statement on the matter, nor have I received any indication that any other Minister intends to do so, but the hon. Gentleman’s observations will have been heard loudly and clearly on the Treasury Bench. If there is a need for a statement, I trust that a Minister will volunteer it. In the absence of any such indication, the hon. Gentleman knows the devices and instruments that are available to him to try to secure parliamentary attention to the matter in question.

I had been expecting a point of order from another hon. Gentleman—

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am extremely grateful to you for accepting this point of order. On Second Reading of the Finance (No. 3) Bill yesterday, it was brought to my attention that a fellow Member of this House, rather than engaging with the substance of the issue being discussed, chose to make disparaging remarks about my accent. It is unfortunately not the first such incident in this place. There was a well-documented incident a few weeks ago involving a Scottish Member of Parliament. This House is meant to be representative of all the nations, accents and backgrounds of the British state, and such behaviour serves only to reinforce the perception of Westminster politics as privileged and exclusive. Mocking an accent is a serious matter, as it ultimately undermines the identity of an individual or a group. I seek your advice as to whether such behaviour—a Member mocking the accent of another Member of this House—is befitting of this place. May I also put it on record that I am extremely proud to be Welsh and of my accent?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and, indeed, for his courtesy in giving me notice of it. He is absolutely right to raise the issue, not least in view of our recently expressed determination on how we treat everybody in this place—be that person a Member, a member of staff, somebody working with Members or someone present on the estate for other reasons.

Personal mockery of one another—Members come in all shapes and sizes, with a wide diversity of accents, national origins and ways of speaking—is wrong and, to many people, it constitutes a form of bullying. I am the last person to deprecate good humour in the way in which we interact. I may on occasion myself have caused offence by my extraordinarily ineffective mimicry, for which I apologise. I have been known to seek to imitate the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has been a friend of mine for well over 20 years. As I say, my efforts at imitating him are usually pretty feeble, and they have always been undertaken in a friendly spirit, but mores change.

I think it is a safe rule of thumb that people should not mimic others. Let us debate the issues—play the ball, rather than the man or the woman. Very specifically, belittling mockery, which I have had occasion in the past to raise with the powers that be in relation to particular Members, is not acceptable. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) is absolutely right about this, and I hope it will not be necessary for the issue to be raised again, or for me to have to repeat what I have in good conscience just said to him and to the House.

By the way, I think that the hon. Gentleman has a magnificent accent, and I think the House is proud of him, because he is a very good example of someone who debates the issues but does not engage in personal attacks. I have known him for many years, and I have never heard him make a personal attack.